Comments: This Just In: Powerful People Still Blind To Their Own Hideous Cruelty
I am the sovereign nexus of ideology, weaponry, and a clash of civilizations...

Whoa. That's pretty sweet (and actually, quite perceptive in its own way).

Posted by Labiche at August 19, 2008 02:57 PM

I forgot to add that warrior poets give me a hard on.

Posted by Labiche at August 19, 2008 02:58 PM

A USAF Major is a USAF Major. He probably is like many other Americans, if not all.
But "The West?" Who, when, and where? What King Leopold did in the Congo is indeed one of the sins of the "West." Are Stalin's Gulag and Hitler's camps? Same "West," or just different manifestations at other times in different places?
And the non-West?
It would be so much better to stick to history. Let the specifics shape the generalizations in the tapestry that is "The West." Knee-jerk responses to the evils of the West really are no better than our own's country knee-jerk responses to !#** "Socialism" or the ideologies and experiences of peoples removed from the consumerism and capitalism of good old USA.

Posted by donescobar at August 19, 2008 07:49 PM

That's all true, donescobar, but if you read the NYT (and I hope you spend your time more wisely), you'll have noticed that "the West" is a phrase that is used to signify all that is decent and noble in the world. Or to put it another way, "the West" in the NYT means exactly what it means in "The Lord of the Rings"--it's the good guys, facing off against fallen angels and their orc legions.

Jon is reacting against that usage.

Posted by Donald Johnson at August 19, 2008 11:15 PM

I suppose I should be used to this sort of thing by now, having been raised by right-wingers and all, but Armagost's dismissive comment that the bombing of Iraqi neighborhoods would inexplicably "be blamed on the Americans", who happened to have actually dropped the bombs, just staggers the mind. That's almost as bad in its denial of responsibility as the retort I heard an American soldier gave to an Iraqi who was begging for assistance after the soldier had just killed one of the Iraqi's relatives: "What does that have to do with me?!"

And there are millions of Americans who will read about situations like this and say, "Those Iraqis need to think positive and quit playing the victim." Do Americans think if only the Jews, gypsies, gays, etc. in Hitler's crematoria had "refused to play the victim", things might have been different? That maybe the millions of indigenous people slaughtered by whites in the Americas and Australia were "just playing the victim"? What the fuck is wrong with people's heads?

And it's not universal to human nature. It's very strange, peculiar only to certain groups of people.

Posted by deang at August 19, 2008 11:32 PM

Knee-jerk responses to the evils of the West really are no better than our own's country knee-jerk responses to !#** "Socialism"

Well, this isn't a knee-jerk response to the evils of the West. It's not a response of any kind to the West, whatever that is. Rather, it's a response to the imaginary concept of the "West," as brought up by Armagost. He's the one who brings up the "clash of civilizations," not me. And if you read the whole thing you'll see how it's all about "western" literature and history and how they define our special culture so different from the barbarians blah blah blah.

Posted by Jonathan Schwarz at August 19, 2008 11:36 PM

Armagost's dismissive comment that the bombing of Iraqi neighborhoods would inexplicably "be blamed on the Americans", who happened to have actually dropped the bombs, just staggers the mind.

Well, I do think he's clear in his mind that it's okay for the actual bombs he's dropping to be blamed on America. His problem is finds it inexplicable that Iraqis would also blame America if their children are killed by antiaircraft shells that miss.

And it's not universal to human nature. It's very strange, peculiar only to certain groups of people.

I strongly disagree. Certainly based on my experience, this tendency to self-exculpation exists in everyone, including me. It's just that only a few people get the opportunity to exculpate themselves from committing war crimes. (And of course, it's generally the people in whom this tendency is strongest who make it to the war-crime-committing positions.)

Posted by Jonathan Schwarz at August 20, 2008 12:13 AM

Forget about the "imaginary" concept of "The West" by people who have neither read its literature or philosophy, nor studied its history, with many great ideas and accomplishments and its solid share of evils as well. Deal with happened, where and why and when, and what potential for civilized society in the West has been squandered and violated by the leaders and elites you justifiably despise. There's enough there, as you know.
As for the "clash of civilizations," that's not all imaginary. At least, if we distinguish among different and at times clashing elements in civilizations. The values of the West have almost always been in conflict. That should be one of its greatest strengths, and one we should nourish.

Posted by donescobar at August 20, 2008 08:59 AM

I should add:

You start one paragraph with "The West understands morality quite differently."
Then you go into your "for instance," and the hypothetical of Major Armagust's family being hit by a fire truck."
I suggest that your "for instance" does not go to illuminating a "difference" in "the West's" (who dat?) understanding of morality. The West's (OK, from the Greeks to the Geeks) "understanding" of morality is a fascinating and much argued about subject, from the Greeks to Kant to Nietzsche (especially he) and Camus.
Armagust is not its embodiment. So, a good story, and one that tells us something about some Americans today.
But generalizations about the West too often descend into the famous and fatuous "Hey hey, ho ho, Western Civ has got to go" idiocy.
Anyway, not to worry. It's going, going...
Better to preserve its best traditions, from Kant to Rosa Luxemburg, no matter how horribly some in the West have dealt with the ideas of both.(And with Rosa, her life.)

Posted by donescobar at August 20, 2008 11:05 AM

Donescobar, there is nothing wrong with pointing out that the phrase "the West" is misused all the time to mean "good civilized people facing off against the barbarian hordes". In fact, in mainstream journalistic circles that's virtually always what the phrase means. And yeah, there are infantile lefties who use the phrase to mean exactly the opposite. Jon is criticizing the first group, not defending the second, but you seem to think he's doing the latter. I think you're overinterpreting a single sentence.

Posted by Donald Johnson at August 20, 2008 11:22 AM

Maybe. (Overinterpreting) I'm not putting Jon into the "infantile lefties" group. I do like to know what people mean when they point to "the West."
Social Democrats like Luxemburg or Michael Harrington are voices of the West's history and thought too. Isn't this whole site and the idea behind it (the tiny revolution) a piece of the West, from Greek comedies to Frost and Lenny Bruce?
(Frost: Dear Lord, if you forgive my little jokes on thee,I'll forgive thy big one on me. Paraphrased.)
Isn't this why we're talking to each other here?

Posted by donescobar at August 20, 2008 11:40 AM

I thought WE were here for the revolution. (viva revolutione')

Posted by Mike Meyer at August 20, 2008 12:00 PM

OT: 1-202-225-0100---I called today, now its YOUR turn.

Posted by Mike Meyer at August 20, 2008 12:05 PM

I suggest that your "for instance" does not go to illuminating a "difference" in "the West's" (who dat?) understanding of morality.

Well...I know. That was the whole point, albeit one that I was making obliquely. Perhaps too obliquely.

Posted by Jonathan Schwarz at August 20, 2008 12:22 PM

Ugh. Yes, it's the crowd that thinks, "They'll be grateful we bombed them," "Why aren't they grateful we bombed them?" "Can't they distinguish between the mayhem we started and the mayhem in response?" and "Don't they realize their grandma died for glorious American values?"

You're right to chide Fallows for that bit, although he has produced some good stuff. Blind into Baghdad collects some prescient articles of his, and he notes some key elements of the propaganda game. He's also consistently pointed out how disastrous invading Iran would be. I do think he considers feasibility more than morality, and is too willing to grant good faith to scoundrels. But I also don't read him all the time, so I may have missed some stuff...

Posted by Batocchio at August 20, 2008 05:08 PM